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MIND
Flux
Operate Your Home Appliances from the Web
Paul DiLascia
I
n the movie The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman�s would-be father-in-law offered one word of advice for total financial bliss: plastics. If you�re looking for the next new new new Internet thing, want to surf the latest Web technology wave, or start a dot-com and become a multimillionaire without getting hitched on TV, then I have one word for you: appliances.
      It may be too late already. A little-known Italian company called Ariston is now selling the first Web-wired washing machine, Margherita 2000. In case you�re wondering why you�d want to operate your washer via the Web, ponder this scenario, excerpted verbatim from Margherita2000.com:
I am in office. A new non-scheduled commitment: tomorrow morning I will go to Paris. Luckily I have already put into the washing machine my two favourites cashmere sweaters. If I start margherita right now, when tonight I go back home, I�ll be able to hang them out and for tomorrow morning they will be ready. I connect with www.margherita2000.com, select the cashmere program, spin at 400 rpm, 30� and anti-wrinkles function.

      Aside from the need for a better translation, there is a minor flaw in the Margherita conceptâ€"one that astute readers have no doubt already perceived. If you can remember to put your sweaters in the washer before going to work, why would you need the Web?
      In case you think I chose the weakest example to pick on, here�s scenario number two:

While I was in office, my son come back home from a school trip. He travelled for five days in Italy, he kissed five girls, five kilos of T-shirts and pants put into the washing machine. I select the washing program on margherita2000.com: cotton, 60�, spin at 1000 rpm, anti-stain function.

      Again, I ask: if the son can load the machine, why can�t he press the Start button? Has he become so befuddled from kissing five girls that he can�t operate the machine effectively?
      You laugh, but the folks at Ariston take their appliances seriously. As their site proclaims, "The worlds of domestic appliances and information & communications technology are finally converging...." (Inquiring minds may reasonably wonder: on what? And why finally?) These words portend a future where toasters, ovens, blenders, cappuccino makers, Jacuzzisâ€"and possibly even sex toysâ€"will all be wired, remotely operable from your handheld computer or cell phone. Programmers will compete to code the perfect spin cycle or play Santana melodies on touch-tone buttons. Third-party vendors will build ActiveX® controls that speak Appliance Control Language. Microsoft® will launch Windows® AS (Appliance Server), and MSDN™ Magazine will run its first Appliance Q&A column.
      It could happen. Where there�s a way, there�s a will.
      But wacky washers aside, it�s fair to wonder: is there no place for appliances on the Web? It depends. What�s an appliance? If you include any electronic measuring or control device, the possibilities are endless: gas pumps, ATMs, industrial robots, meters of all sortsâ€"even the Hubble space telescope. If these devices had Web servers built in, gas station owners could probe their pumps, banks could analyze ATMs (which they do now, using proprietary means), utilities could interrogate meters, and ordinary citizens could get time on Hubble. And yes, Maytag could call before your washer breaks, just like on TV.
      Many of these appliances already provide remote access using proprietary means. If they used the Web, reach would extend to any browser. The Web would become the main bus of a giant global computer with millions of devices. Want to know how many Crunch bars are in your vending machine? All you need is a Web server on a chip. Even as we speak, the Redmondtonians are dreaming of a Web server on Windows CE embedded in every gizmo under the sun. People may wonder: why use Windows for a device with no mouse, keyboard, or monitor? But heyâ€"if it works, why not?
      So take your pick: TCP toasters or GUI gas pumps. Whichever vision floats your boat, it spells big bucks for software.
      Of course, there is a dark side. Unscrupulous marketeers will drop cookies in your washer that report usage and cleanliness habits so they can deliver more Tide as your supply runs out; hackers will hijack the world�s laundry, turning undies pink, and reroute Monica Lewinsky�s AgitatorCam to Times Square; Milosevic will seize factories, causing Chrysler and Ford to make Yugos; Saddam Hussein will put diesel in cars that take ethanol; ATMs will dispense free cash; your neighbor will steal your electricity; and Hubble will aim at the White House bedroom. But look at it this way: life will be more exciting!

Paul DiLascia is the author of Windows++: Writing Reusable Windows Code in C++ (Addison-Wesley, 1992) and a freelance consultant and writer-at-large. He can be reached at askpd@pobox.com or http://www.dilascia.com.

From the May 2000 issue of MSDN Magazine.


© 2008 Microsoft Corporation and CMP Media, LLC. All rights reserved; reproduction in part or in whole without permission is prohibited.
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